As afraid as I am of spiders, my fear of real poverty tops it. I'm not talking about living on a budget, eating out less or skipping vacations several years in a row. I know how to do that. The kitchen in our first apartment was a renovated walk-in closet with a one-piece oven/sink/mini-fridge unit that looked like Lucile Ball could have used it in black and white. I drove a 1978 Datsun that was given to us as a gift—in 1985. The finish had worn off, and I had to have it tuned up once a month or so (remember when you had to do that to cars?) because it would stall every time I came to a stop. Try driving in New Jersey under those conditions. And we ate Meatless Mondays (and a few other days of the week) before Meatless Mondays were cool.
I have a particular memory—in the heat of the summer, we had one window air conditioner that we installed in the bedroom, and we would sit at the foot of the bed eating our spaghetti and watching our tiny black and white TV with the cat, Franklin Roosevelt, sitting beside us waiting to lick the sauce from the plates.
No, I'm afraid of being so poor I can't afford food at all, or shelter or transportation or shoes or health care. I was raised on stories of life during the Great Depression, and we had some pretty lean years of our own in the Wells house. My mother tried to keep the details of our strained finances between she and our father, but I remember one hard winter when she hung her head and said, "I just don't know if we're going to make it." That moment has stayed with me.
So, in an effort to assuage my own fear and to inspire the rest of you, here is today's column for Small Town Newspaper.